Finding Justice On a Small Scale

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 5, 2005

The boy on the left is smiling. Did one of his brothers tell a joke? Did the photographer tell him to "Say 'cheese' "?

Or is he grinning at some private inkling of his own bright future?

It's fun to imagine that he is, because the boy is John Paul Stevens -- who, as an 85-year-old man today, serves as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Back in 1928, a photographer from the Chicago Daily News took some shots at the big new hotel in town, the Stevens. Upstairs in the playroom, the owner's sons, including 8-year-old John Paul, posed.

The pictures went into the newspaper's photo archives, which were later acquired by the Chicago Historical Society. Recently digitized, they can now be seen through a Library of Congress Web site, .

In cyberspace, Stevens remains forever young but also anonymous. The photo archive included no identification of the boys. Leslie Martin, a research specialist at the Chicago Historical Society, says that no one there had recognized the justice until she was contacted by a Post reporter who had stumbled upon them in a Google search.

Robert V. Allegrini, a spokesman for the Hilton Chicago, which now operates the former Stevens Hotel, said that he, too, was unaware of the photograph.

But in a brief interview, Justice Stevens confirmed that he is, indeed, the boy on the left. The two others are his brothers, William K. Stevens, then 11, in the center, and Richard James Stevens, 13, who died in 2001. The oldest brother, the late Ernest S. Stevens, is not pictured.

The boys were working a jigsaw puzzle, Stevens recalls.

"I'm very proud of [the Stevens Hotel]," he says. "It's one of my dad's contributions to the city."

Certainly the rise -- and fall -- of the Stevens played a role in the justice's youth.

To be sure, when people hear the words "Supreme Court justice" these days, they probably do not think "youth." The youngest justice is Clarence Thomas, 56. The eight others are 65 or older. Yet each of them was once a child.

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